There’s a big push on for gender diversity right now. Where did it start and who’s got the bug? Andi Yu investigates and talks to several industry leaders including Ming Long, David Parken, Laurice Temple, Julie Tanner and Romilly Madew.
Ming Long sees things differently to her colleagues.
Her colleagues are mostly male and Anglo-Saxon but she was born in Malaysia to Chinese parents and migrated to Australia at the age of nine.
Long worked in the media and accounting industries before moving across to finance and property.
She says her gender, cultural background and eclectic professional history give her a “different lens” when it comes to her role until recently as joint managing director and finance director at Investa Property Group and now group executive and fund manager for Investa Office Fund.
As the only woman at the table in most high level meetings Long decided to start championing gender diversity in senior management.
She believes that the more perspectives available, the more innovative decision making can be.
Long has been working closely with Sex Discrimination Commissioner Elizabeth Broderick to drive the Male Champions for Change initiative through the male-dominated property industry.
Chief executives of brig property companies such as Stockland came on board with the commissioner’s campaign last year to step up beside women in making a gender equal world.
Since then initiatives from the powerful group of men have included focus groups with their own employees to find out what they want, targets for female representation in middle and senior management and prioritising parental leave.
“There may be some guys that don’t believe in it but overtime they will just underperform,” Long says.
“It’s like Darwinism, they won’t survive the industry.”
The connection of a gender equal workplace to economic sustainability is a concept gaining momentum throughout a lot of traditionally male-dominated industries.
The Australian Institute of Architects chief executive David Parken says having women involved in all facets of the broader economy is just logical.
The architecture profession boasts equal numbers of men and women at university level but this quickly declines within a few years of work.
Numbers of men and women are 50/50 during the three-year undergraduate degree and remain high during the two-year masters course and two years of work to become registered.
After that female representation starts to drop and pay gaps start to appear.
Parken says it’s “wasteful” to lose seven years expertise and it doesn’t make economic sense.
“There’s a loss of talent throughout the career from the industry’s point of view,” he says.
The AIA has studied gender equity across its industry in the last three years in an effort to get data on the status of gender inequality.
In a survey of male and female members, the AIA found a large overlap in attitudes of men and women.
“The survey clearly indicated that the men were often frustrated as well and they also desired more flexibility, work-life balance, so that the family isn’t always last,” Parken says.
“The culture of (some organisations) is, if you can’t do that, you’re made to feel like you’re letting the team down.”
Parken says the AIA’s research clearly indicated a need for “alternative forms of practice”.
This, he says, is about collaboration and working “in non-traditional ways” especially for the sake of women and men who have to care for their children.
“There are different models of the way people can work which has more flexibility to it,” he says.
But he says, the architectural profession is rigid in some ways.
“When you leave the office for a break, the projects you were working on still continue.
“How do you get back up to speed with where the office is? How do you reengage with the current projects?
“That’s really a challenge and I don’t think we’ve got the answer to that yet.”
Stockland senior manager of organisational development and diversity Julie Tanner offers some answers.
“We established a childcare facility within our head office and we actively encourage flexible working arrangements,” Tanner said.
She says 20 per cent of Stockland’s employees formally worked part time and many others had flexible working arrangements, which included working from home, altered hours and job-sharing.
While parents (notably not just women) are on leave Tanner says Stockland runs coffee catch ups, kids at work days and ‘keeping in touch’ lunches that include a business update and the opportunity for the employee to catch up with their manager and team.
The company says it has a parental return rate of 90 per cent.
In terms of females in senior management, Stockland set a target to increase the percentage of senior women to 45 per cent by 2017 but has already exceeded it.
The target is now 50/50 in managerial roles by 2020.
Flexibility in work is something Green Building Council of Australia chief executive Romilly Madew appreciates in her working life.
She gets work done at a variety of times and places including her son’s soccer matches.
Madew was caught out recently during a conference call when she forgot to press mute and the sounds of soccer wafted down the line.
“I think mute is a woman’s best friend, you’ve just got to use it correctly,” Madew says.
She says some women put the pressure on themselves when it comes to arranging work and family life, but some workplaces still don’t offer the flexibility.
“Leave the organisation if it’s too hard, don’t stay there, because you won’t be happy trying to do both,” she says.
Women’s Construction Association chief executive Laurice Temple says flexibility for men was just as important and employers were starting to make effort in that space.
But change is slow, particularly in construction which is renowned for extremely low female representation.
Temple recently met a man who asked his employer for more flexibility at work so he could meet his family’s needs.
His manager’s response was to make him work on Saturdays and arrive at work an hour earlier.
“The guy was in tears,” Temple said.
“Most of the men will not put themselves out there in those conversations because they fear reprisal.”
In a separate situation years ago a male employee asked Temple if he could leave early on Friday.
He wouldn’t explain why, but she probed him and discovered he was getting married that weekend. Temple ordered him to take Thursday and Friday off. Later the man’s fiancée rang in tears to thank her.
This tough culture has to change, Temple said, because the impact on both men and women is dangerous.
Men in the construction industry are more likely to die of suicide than a workplace fatality
“A man (in the construction industry) is more likely to die of suicide than he is of a workplace fatality,” she said.“It’s pretty sobering the stress that this industry brings.”
While Temple spends a lot of her time talking to men, her organisation exists specifically to support women in the construction sector.
It offers mentoring, programs, networking and awards to recognise women’s achievements.
Temple said there had been improvements on the pay gap issue and the typical blokey language of the construction sector has changed too.
“Years ago, it was suck it up, if you can’t take it,” Temple said.
Despite the progress, the struggles are still ever present.
Temple says it is very common for women to be inappropriately touched and harassed at work, but they don’t tell their boss.
“They don’t want to report, they alter themselves to keep out of harm’s way,” she says.
“The don’t feel like the organisation is walking the talk and will support them in their challenge.”
Consult Australia chief executive Megan Motto said for a long time women were taught to behave like men, the assumption being that if they did, they would cope better in the workplace.
Women were given voice training, maths tuition, general education about how the business world worked.
“It was assumed that women didn’t have these skills and that was why they were falling behind,” Motto said.
“We realised that part of the issue is not that women can’t fit into the world, but that the world has got to change for women and men.”
The Male Champions of Change campaign is going strong in the consulting industry.
Motto says a group of male chief executives from 16 firms are “peer pressuring” other chief executives to get on board.
She has worked with them to draw up a list of issues to be addressed which include the gender pay gap, unconscious bias training, supporting women, setting female representation targets and being a public advocate for change.
Motto says firms that are unable to change their leadership paradigm will miss out on the next generation of employees.
“There’s always going to be deadlines, but there is a way of working longer and there is a way of working smarter,” she says.
“We know through studies that people who are time poor and trying to fit other things in tend to work smarter.
a study into the productivity of its workforce and found that by a factor of 14 per cent the most productive employees were part time working womenIn the case of one firm, Motto said, it ran a study into the productivity of its workforce and found that by a factor of 14 per cent the most productive employees were part time working women.
Green Building Council’s Madew wants to focus on how far equality has come, not just on the challenges that remain.
“On the male side in our industry, it’s like (some top male leaders) have been hiding their feminist lights under a bushel,” she says.
“They’ve come out and we’ve asked them to publicly speak and they have grabbed it and spoken.”
A few of her favourite Male Champions of Change in the property industry include Mark Steinert of Stockland, Bob Johnston from Australand and Michael Cameron from The GPT Group (moving to Suncorp in October).
While men championing change for women is vital, Madew says, women must also stand up and be accounted for.
“lt is also beholden on women to ‘lean in’,” she says.
“(Sheryl Sandberg author of Lean In) didn’t write the book for nothing. If women don’t know how to, they need to reach out to other women.”
Madew says women often comment on how confident she is.
“I wasn’t always like this,” she says.
“How I’ve developed that is through an amazing support network of women and men.”